If a Western is set in Chicago, does that make it a Midwestern?
Before he devoted himself exclusively to feature films William S. Hart made a number of fast-paced Western shorts such as THE RUSE --although technically I suppose this film isn't a Western at all. Sure, the opening sequence is set in a rough-and-tumble saloon full of drunken cowboys, and Hart's character "Bat" Peters gets involved in a good old fashioned Western-style dust-up, but most of the remainder of the story takes place in Chicago, where Bat travels to conclude a business deal involving land he owns. There are no shots of Chicago landmarks, not even stock shots, so where these urban scenes were actually filmed is anyone's guess.
Bat takes a room in a boarding house and quickly falls for the landlady's daughter (you have to work fast in a two-reeler!) who also happens to work as secretary for the obviously crooked "mine promoter" who wants to buy Bat's land. Soon the promoter has kidnapped the girl, and sent his thugs after our hero, but Bat is a former gunfighter and not to be trifled with.
It's unusual to see Bill Hart in this kind of setting, battling gangsters instead of gunslingers, but despite some good moments I wouldn't rank THE RUSE among Hart's more memorable works. Whether our hero is Bill Hart, Sherlock Holmes, or James Bond, we like to see him pitted against a villain who is a worthy opponent, but the crooked mine promoter of this film isn't up to the job. This is an opponent who makes such stupid, inexplicable blunders that he practically defeats himself. As ever, Bill manages to save the day, but considering the villain's behavior it isn't much of a challenge.
Still, for fans of William S. Hart and silent Western/Action stories, THE RUSE is generally enjoyable and offbeat fare.
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